Wheeling City Charter Change Would Affect Future City Council Pay

First reading of ordinance set for Tuesday

WHEELING –The last time members of Wheeling City Council got a pay raise, George H.W. Bush was president, while very few people had any concept of the internet — much less social media and smartphones.

Mayor Glenn Elliott was an underclassman at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, the year in which Wheeling voters passed the current City Charter. This document establishes annual pay for council members at $8,500 per year, with the salary for the mayor set at about $11,300.

Elliott and fellow councilors plan to increase these amounts to approximately $15,000 and $20,000, respectively, effective July 1, 2020.

This means the current council members would only receive the pay increases if voters re-elect them in 2020.

“With the advent of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, the nature of public service at the municipal level has evolved over the years such that the time commitments can be considerable,” Elliott said.

“Those drafting our city charter in 1992 may have reasonably envisioned a part-time job for council members, but the reality is that being on Wheeling City Council today looks much more like a quasi-full-time position.”

Council members should hear the first reading of the pay increase ordinance during the 5:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting, set for the first floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.

“Due to the controversy this may generate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s another 20 or 30 years before a future city council decides to move forward with another council pay raise,” Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said. “Nobody on city council would feel comfortable voting to give ourselves a pay raise.”

Elliott and Thalman said the ordinance should direct city Finance Director Seth McIntyre to determine the exact salaries based on an inflation-adjusted formula to reflect the same value they did in 1992, so the $15,000 and $20,000 amounts are only estimates.

Elliott, himself a practicing attorney, said the charter does not allow council to directly place the decision before city voters. The document permits council to amend the charter, as long as no one objects.

Realizing at least one Friendly City voter will almost certainly object, Elliott said the objection will allow the measure to be placed on the ballot for the May 8 primary election.

“It is our intention to make arrangements for someone to file that objection immediately if council approves this measure. If I am permitted to do so, I will file it myself,” he said.

“This decision would require a two-thirds vote on council, but only a straight majority of voters for approval,” Elliott added.

Elliott and Thalman said they also believe increasing the salaries for these positions will make them more attractive, which could help draw the “best and brightest” candidates.

“What you’re willing to pay for something says a lot about how much you value it. Residents expect their municipal governments to solve problems large and small. They expect results,” Elliott said.

“To put it simply, we just think this is the right thing to do in order to assure that Wheeling voters have the ability to choose between as many good and qualified candidates as possible,” Thalman added.